Belfast Telegraph

MPs will decide NI abortion law if Stormont won't, inquiry told

Campaign: Sarah Ewart
Campaign: Sarah Ewart

By Lisa Smyth

Westminster will press ahead with an overhaul of abortion laws in Northern Ireland if politicians here fail to re-establish a functioning Assembly.

The Government has responded to an inquiry into legislation here, stating that the priority is for a breakthrough in the political deadlock to allow MLAs to make decisions on abortion law.

The Women and Equalities Committee published the Government response to its inquiry, which was carried out in light of the absence of a functioning Assembly amid a series of significant developments relating to Northern Ireland's controversial abortion laws.

Since 2017, these have included: a UN Committee finding "grave" and "systematic" breaches of women's rights, and the UK Supreme Court identifying a breach of human rights in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest; the introduction of UK Government funding for women and girls to access free abortion services in England; evidence that significant numbers of abortion pills purchased online are being sent to Northern Ireland, and a lack of follow-up to a report on fatal foetal abnormality commissioned by NI ministers.

The inquiry heard from a range of witnesses in Westminster, Belfast, Antrim and Londonderry, including doctors, nurses, midwives and lawyers, as well as women who spoke out about their own experiences.

The committee produced its inquiry report in April, which laid out action the Government must take to address the "lack of clarity about the current legal situation", which it said is "creating confusion, fear and inequality".

In its response, the Government said: "The people of Northern Ireland need their elected representatives back in Government as a matter of urgency. It is only right that the people they elected are working hard to represent their views and take the important decisions on the issues that matter most to the public, especially on abortion law."

It also referred to the recent House of Commons vote on an amendment by Stella Creasy MP, which it said places a duty on the UK Government to implement the proposed changes in abortion law if the Executive is not restored by October 21.

More information will be made available for people who want to bring home the remains of babies when women have a termination outside of NI.

The challenges facing women here who want to access abortions came to prominence with the case of Sarah Ewart, who was denied an abortion in 2013 despite doctors saying her baby would not survive outside the womb.

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